Shhhhhh! German parties appeal to voters' aversion to noise
BERLIN (Reuters) - "One in two Germans feels troubled by noise," Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) state in their election manifesto. "We want to change this".
Germany already has some of the world's most stringent noise regulations and citizens only too eager to reprimand neighbors for loud children or taking out rubbish too early on a Sunday.
Chancellor Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer famously filed a complaint about an open-air theatre group performing opposite the couple's apartment in central Berlin back in 2001 for violating a 60-decibel noise limit by eight decibels.
In their programs for the September 22 election and to an extent never seen before, political parties are outlining how they intend to make German skies and roads even quieter.
Noise is mentioned 12 times in the CDU's manifesto, 19 times in the program of her junior coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP), 38 times in the Greens' election manifesto, 9 times by the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and 8 times by the far left Die Linke.
Some noise seems to be acceptable. The CDU and the FDP both stress that in 2011 their government abolished regulations allowing Germans to file legal complaints against Kindergartens or playgrounds because of the "noise" of kids at play.
"The sound of children is not damaging to the environment," the new law made clear.
Many of the parties are promising the same remedies: traffic speed limits to reduce noise, increased use of a road surface known as "whispering asphalt" and more investment in sound insulation of roads and railways.
Then there are the more abstract pledges aimed at reassuring frazzled voters.
The CDU mentions Germany's worshiped concept of "Nachtruhe" or night silence - the preservation of silence between 10 in the evening and 6 in the morning. "Above all we want to better protect people's Nachtruhe," they say.
The environmentalist Greens state: "Protection from health-damaging noise should not be a question of money. Noise causes stress and can lead to chronic illness."
They promise to increase noise insulation in buildings and double the amount spent on sound insulation of roads and rail.
The SPD even promises to try to halve the number of people whose health is negatively affected by noise by 2020, while the Left party vows a strict ban on night flights.
Peter Vasner, 51, fries "quark baellchen", a donut-like snack, in a trailer on a dual carriageway in the eastern Berlin suburb of Koepenick. Trams screech past and trains rumble over a bridge every couple of minutes.
"It is getting louder and more unbearable here all the time. I'm glad the politicians are thinking about noise but what can they really do? Whispering asphalt? I don't think such a thing actually exists," he said.
"In East German times there was only a third of the traffic. It smelt bad from all the exhaust fumes, but at least it was quiet."
Professor Rainer Guski at Bochum's Ruhr University leads a study funded by the German state of Hesse into "noise related annoyance, cognition and health" (NORAH).
He believes politicians' increased interest in noise stems from the high level of public activism against airport extensions and major infrastructure projects.
A thousand protesters living below planned new flight paths formed a human chain around Merkel's office on Saturday.
Showing they are thinking of solutions can help politicians to limit citizens' resistance to new projects, while also heeding the interests of German industry and logistics, he said.
"British colleagues joke that the Germans are a bit hysterical about the medical side-effects of noise. They seem to be a bit more tolerant over there," he said.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Noah Barkin and Anna Willard)
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